Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Vanglorious Testimony

Queen Mother Rage was cool. But she had a very relaxed, straight forward flow; pretty much the opposite of her counterpart, Isis the "Lady of Thunder," who came off hard and fiercely energetic. And for her album she picked almost all laid back, smooth beats (I think it was mixed a little low and muddy, too). So, no matter how determined you were to sit down and listen to her lyrics, and regardless of how strong your will power was, you soon found yourself thinking about work or working out next week's grocery list. And it's not that Rage couldn't be an effective MC - listen to Professor X's first album, each of her appearances are a highlight - but Vanglorious Law was a sleeper in more ways than one.

So, after two singles that featured nothing but album versions (and one instrumental of an album version), it must've finally occurred to them to kick out a couple remixes and add a little life to the party. Now, Paradise's LP version (also included here) is probably actually the best beat, strictly objectively speaking. It's a catchy drum break lead by a funk guitar loop and a little bass. But like I said, smooth beat + relaxed flow = somnambulistic state. So the remix could really help the more casual listeners to appreciate Rage.

Strictly speaking, you've got two remixes: the Bassmood mix and the Funk-E mix (plus an instrumental for the Bassmood one), both by Bandele & The Kid. No idea who those guys were - I've never heard of them before or since. But, anyway, the Bassmood mix is the key here.

Right away you'll hear that the Bassmood version is definitely livelier, laying some bold-strokes keyboards over a new, stronger bassline. It maybe somewhat pop-musicy, but it works, and brings out Rage's delivery so you pay attention, while remaining decent enough to keep the heads listening. It might sound like faint praise, but really, more people should probably hear this.

The only disappointing part is that they drop the hook in favor of just letting the beat ride between verses. Now, normally dropping the hook would be a gutsy and admiral choice, but the hook for "Key Testimony" was great: no singing or chants. Just a candid recording of a single, male voice (Sonny Carson, maybe?) speaking - or giving the "key testimony," I suppose - over the breakbeat. That's it. Each hook is different, but here's a sample one: "Pure black nationalism. I grew up in a home where faiths, the faiths... the many faiths... the muslims, the hebrews... they came together under black nationalism." It's the sort of hook that hip-hop didn't make enough of.

The Bassmood also drops Professor X's blustery introduction, but it was one of his worst, so that's not so much of a loss. Oh, and the Funk-E Mix? That's just the LP version minus Professor X's contributions ...possibly making this slightly preferable to the LP version. I'll let you make up your own minds on that score.

So, while there's nothing stand-out/ must-have on this 12", it's a surprisingly effective way to introduce new fans to the Queen Mother. Or to encourage those of us who picked up the album ages ago and quickly neglected it to wipe off the dust and rediscover some good music... without having to hop yourself up on caffeine.

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